How Can Solitude and Isolation Affect Your Social Skills
Following the pandemic, people are spending more time at home. Despite the world opening its doors, the COVID-19 crisis has left its mark. With remote working on the rise and a decrease in face-to-face social interactions, how can solitude and isolation after your social skills?
An Epidemic of Loneliness
A huge library of digital tools allows you to communicate with your colleagues, friends, and family without leaving your house. But, is the digital world of Zoom, FaceTime, and WhatsApp as effective as face-to-face interaction?
The pandemic forced many people to re-evaluate their lives, whether it’s work, relationships, or physical and mental health.
Statistics show that 36% of all Americans, including 61% of young people, feel “serious loneliness.”
Three in five Americans are lonely, with more people reporting a lack of companionship or feeling left out. Workplace culture may also play a bigger role in loneliness than first thought. Those with a healthy work-life balance, good co-worker relationships, and shared goals were less lonely. Other key risk factors of loneliness include:
- Poor mental or physical health
- Infrequent meaningful interactions
- Lack of social support
- Imbalance of daily activities
With terms like “social distancing” and “contactless experience” now the norm, a growing lack of offline social interactions could impact health and well-being.
Isolation and feeling lonely are not new phenomena, but the past few years have put a new spin on them.
Dr. Tiirrell De Gannes, Licensed Clinical Psychologist in New York, says, “I think people are genuinely more isolated. Even as young children, we identify the closest people to us to be the people we spend the most time with physically. Some people have always felt isolated and are now more aware of it but even the fallacy of connectedness can be therapeutic when you’re around others that you can communicate with.”
The Importance of Social Connections
Forming strong and healthy connections is part of the human experience. When you open up, actively listen, and respond, it can offer various health benefits.
There are proven links between healthy social connections and lower rates of anxiety and depression, as well as higher self-esteem. The emotional and physical comfort you receive from social support and interactions can make you more confident and provide a sense of belonging.
Social connections are likely much more important than you may first think. That connection can also help to regulate emotions. Neglecting your need to connect may put your health at risk.
Despite living in an era of technology and constant connection, many people feel disconnected from social connections and nature. You need more than an internet connection to fulfill all of your social needs. That’s not to say digital connection doesn’t have a place in the world. But face-to-face interactions are still valuable.
Dr. Tirrell De Gannes says, “I love the flexibility given by the implementation of digital connection, but nothing replaces seeing a person’s body language, giving and receiving a hug, or just spending time with someone in silence.”
The theory of Dunbar’s number says you can only maintain about 150 connections at once with a tighter circle of five loved ones. If you’re thinking, “wow, that sounds like a lot of connections,” you are not alone. In the real world, connections are often determined by how you invest your time into that connection. Several factors influence relationships. These theories and ideas help to understand all those that impact social connections.
Regular interaction with others can teach you to value yourself and help you to interpret the intentions of others more accurately. Sometimes, it’s easy to assume that an interaction is negative, but it’s not necessarily true. Social practice helps to create more positive social experiences over time.
5 Ways Solitude and Isolation Affect Your Social Skills
Humans are social creatures, and at their core, they crave social connection, at least occasionally. That’s not to say you have to spend all your time surrounded by people. Instead, it’s about understanding how solitude and isolation affect your social skills.
- Lack Social Cues
Dr. Tirrell Gannes explains how “social cues are reinforcing. You only know how to act/react by seeing others do so. Ever been in a new diner and don’t know how to pay until you see others do so? That’s a social skill.”
So, think about all those times you have done something new based on watching and learning through others. When you take out those cues and behaviors, it would be much more difficult to know how to act or react in certain situations.
- Decrease in Confidence
Possible signs of loneliness are reduced confidence and self-esteem. But they’re not the only effects of isolation.
“Over time, we as people become more rude and self-centered when we don’t have adequate social time. There’s a natural profession in interacting/playing with others that we develop from infancy. Similar to riding a bike, we may not forget those skills once they’re solidified, but we may be far less confident when it’s been a while,” says Dr. Tirrell De Gannes.
- Assume a Negative Outlook
Research suggests that people with higher levels of social isolation may engage in thinking that can lead to a negative outlook. In general, social isolation is associated with higher levels of depression and lower mental well-being.
- Struggle to Regulate Emotions and Feelings
Social and emotional isolation may lead to a person feeling a detachment from their own emotions or feeling numb. If a person lacks emotional support, interactions, or experiences an unwillingness to share with others, it can really impact the way they regulate their emotions.
- Feel Dread When Attending Social Activities
After spending a lot of time alone, the thought of a social event can feel utterly overwhelming. It’s completely normal to feel anxious, especially after a global pandemic.
But, “too much solitude can diminish the individual’s sense of the benefit of socializing. If you’re too used to being alone, you become uncomfortable not feeling alone. Our minds adapt surprisingly well to circumstances,” says Dr. Tirell De Gannes.
What Can You Do If You’re Feeling Isolated?
Social isolation and loneliness are two very different things that often get lumped together. Being alone is not the same as feeling lonely. A person can feel lonely surrounded by people or be socially isolated and not feel lonely. Moments of solitude are not inherently bad; it can be beneficial to spend time by yourself and unwind.
The problem is when you feel isolated and cut off; it can start to take its toll. Dr. Tirrell De Gannes explains, “I’d like to emphasize that being alone is not the same thing as being “lonely.” You can be one without being the other.
Acknowledging the things that draw your attention and engaging in them is a great way to build connections. No matter what you enjoy, there are others that feel the same way you do. Start within and make the connections from there.”
Often, it can feel like it’s too late to make a new connection, but this isn’t the case. You can benefit from social connections at any point in your life. If you’re feeling isolated, here are some ideas to try:
- Exercise regularly
- Join a community of like-minded people
- Take a social media break and find offline interaction
It’s important to find the support you need. Whether it’s speaking to a therapist or confiding in a friend, starting the conversation can be a weight off in itself. Anyone can benefit from in-person interaction. While digital technology has a role to play in most professional and personal situations, it’s a good idea to sign off and step outside every once in a while.
If you would like to speak to one of our dedicated mental health professionals, the Thriving Center of Psychology has a team of therapists to help you. Book an online appointment or contact one of our offices in New York, Florida, California, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Oregon.